Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Flight of Fancy

I have a thing for Neil Gaiman. I can't exactly explain what it is, but it's there. Now, this does not compare to the deep, unending, and (sometimes) irrational thing I have for Patrick Rothfuss,...but I can't deny there is something special in my heart for Neil's art, for his way of seeing things, and for his lovely, lovely storytelling.

I became a fan of Gaiman's when I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It is a most unusual tale, a cross between a delightful faerie tale and a Grimm Brothers' nightmare. I loved it and reviewed that book in an earlier blog. Since reading that first book, I've sought out and read various books by Gaiman. Each one, so far, has been different than the others, but I've liked them all. I do have a thing for first loves, though, so my heart pulls most towards The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Most recently, though, I became enamored with Gaiman's novel Stardust. It's a delightful romp in a magical forest. It's about bringing together all the things that make fantasy fiction so much fun for me. There's lovely maidens, evil plots, handsome heroes, magical kingdoms, witches, faeries, ghosts, falling stars, magic spells, flying ships, unicorns, and...well,...love. What's a good story without that? Oh, you can have a good story without it, don't get me wrong, but it isn't usually the kind of story that leaves you with a big, goofy grin on your face.

There is a part of me that would like to compare Stardust to William Goldman's The Princess Bride, but that's difficult for me to do because that particular book and movie have been near and dear to my heart for a very long time. I am a bit biased. Stardust does, however, glimmer with the same kind of magic, wit, fun, and good storytelling that is appealing in The Princess Bride. And, like The Princess Bride, Stardust was also made into a movie.

OK, OK,...wait. My brain keeps repeating how I actually DO compare The Princess Bride to Stardust, but I didn't want to write it...just in case it might dissuade you from reading Stardust (and I do think you should read it). Oh, I'm going to go ahead and write it, anyway...

Stardust is like the plain cousin of The Princess Bride. Not unattractive, but attractive in a different way. She's less complex, much shorter, a bit naughty, and not quite as witty, but she's a fun date and can dance a jig as well as most. Best of all, she will leave you with a warm smile at the end of the evening and, while she'll never be her cousin, she is worthy in her own right and deserves to be courted.

There. I said it.

Now, if you want a real book lovers' treat, you should buy the book with illustrations by Charles Vess. I ordered mine after I'd read the book on my Kindle. Once I read it, I knew this was a book I would read again and wanted to own (yes, I'm one of those kind of people). When I looked it up on Amazon and saw there was an option to get the illustrated version, I was thrilled! The pictures remind me of the kind I used to see in old faerie tale books when I was a little girl. They are really lovely and a bit scary - just as any good, illustrated fantasy book should be. :)

So, do yourself a favor and read Stardust. After that, watch the movie. Then read The Princess Bride and watch that movie again (It is 'again,' isn't it? Surely, you've watched it?). You will enjoy both, but you'll understand what I mean. Both are lovely flights of fancy, one is just a little fancier than the other. :)

Happy reading (and movie watching)!!


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Mystery and Mania

I will be brief about this next novel because there are some books you should say very little about, especially when it's a mystery. I wouldn't want to risk giving anything away.

When I read The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, I had no preconceived notions about it. I didn't even know what it was about. A friend of mine had read it, couldn't put it down, and recommended it to me without telling me the premise of the novel. I trust her judgment, so I picked up a copy and read it. No preview, just dove right in. It's great when you have friends that are avid readers, and they know you well enough to know what you'll like and what you won't like.

I enjoyed reading The Girl on the Train, but here is what you might want to know before you decide to jump on the train for this reading journey...

The book begins with making you aware that something bad has happened to someone. The rest unfolds in pieces and, at times, you may feel a bit unsure of what is going on. This is on purpose. Much like what Kate Williams did in her novel, The Pleasures of Men, Hawkins purposely writes to put you in the same mood and the same frame of mind as the protagonist. I think the author does an excellent job of it, but some people don't like having their emotions manipulated to pull them into a story.

So, what does that mean?

It means this is a well-written who-done-it, but it is not a happy book. I've read some reviews that call it depressing. I didn't find it depressing, but - let's face it - crime isn't a joyful kind of thing, now, is it? When you mix that with a protagonist who is not a happy person, the results are a little different than what some people expect. Readers like someone to root for, but this poor woman's life is in a bit of a slump. She's not some shiny heroine that you're cheering for through the whole novel. Her life is real, her problems are real (and she has quite a few of them), and life isn't fun for her at the moment.

My advice? It's a worthy read, but if your life is in a slump these days, save this one for happier times when your head can handle it. I would like to explain more about what I mean, but I fear saying too much. I will say this, it is not a novel you should begin reading in bits and pieces in your spare time. Read it to read it and read all the way to the end. Don't stop halfway through and say you don't like it. You won't know if you like it or not until you finish it. It's just that kind of book.

Enough said.

Until next time,...happy reading!!

Friday, July 17, 2015


It's hard for me to explain how I love so many books in so many different ways, just like I love different people in different ways. It's all love, just not the same kind or the same amount or in the exact same way.
Now and then (and less often than you might imagine), I find a book I consider a treasure. It's one I know will stay with me and linger in my heart and mind for a very long time. I usually know it's unique before I finish the book. It's this wonderful feeling I get, like,...well,...like realizing you're having a perfect late-night conversation with someone that you wish would never end. Yes, I think that's a perfect comparison...
It isn't that a late-night conversation is about how to bring about world peace or debating the value of some crucial moment in history, although those are interesting topics to discuss. It isn't even about the words being just the right ones all the time, in perfect order, or placed in a clear and concise manner. No. It isn't about that at all...
It's about having a conversation that makes you want to lean in for more. It's where everything around you ceases to exist for a little while, and you become acutely aware of the cadence in the other person's voice, the nod of their head, the smile you share in agreement or when you both find something amusing. It's the companionship you feel when conversing and sharing a precious, quiet moment in time together,...just enjoying the pause from your normal, busy, everyday hustle and bustle in life.
When the conversation ends, you go back to your everyday life more aware of everything. You appreciate the world around you more because you took a break from it for just a little while. You tell yourself you'll remember to slow down, drink more of life in, and be kinder to yourself and to those around you. It makes you see things in a softer, yet brighter, light.
Yes, that's it. That's exactly what makes The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister, a novel to be treasured. It gives me that same feeling I get from having a good conversation that warms my heart and makes me smile again and again. It makes me like myself, and the world around me, a little more. What a lovely gift to give to a reader!

The story is built around Lillian, a fabulous cook and restaurateur, who pauses her life one Monday a month to teach a cooking class to eight students. The adult students are different ages and come from different backgrounds and lifestyles. Each character gives voice to the story, and you learn how they came to be there. The students learn much more from Lillian than cooking, they learn about each other and some precious truths about life.
I loved it.
I also consider this book a treasure for another reason. I found it myself. It wasn't recommended by anyone, I'd never heard of it before, and it was one I was attracted to on a random hunt through a bookstore. (I love when that happens!) I've found I have an odd instinct for choosing great random books. I do seek out new authors and debut novels on purpose because I like to give something new a chance. Goodness knows, I read and appreciate the well-established authors and the classics enough.
I liked Bauermeister's style so much that I ordered her other two novels. One is Joy for Beginners and the other is The Art of Mixing, which is the sequel to The School of Essential Ingredients. I don't believe it was originally written to have a sequel, but I'm glad she wrote one. I'm looking forward to finding out what happens to the characters in the next book.  I'll be sure to let you know if the sequel turns out to be a lovely late-night conversation, as well.

Happy reading! :)


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Odd Duck

First, allow me to apologize that I did not blog last night as I said I would. My husband and I had a long, wonderful day visiting our daughter and her family who live about an hour away from us. We got back much later than I thought we would, and I was very tired and wasn't in the mood to blog when I got home. I'm sorry I did not blog when I said I would, AND I would also like to say that I'm not going to blog about all the books at once. I decided to just do a little at a time for the next few days. Like preparing a good meal, it's easier to write a little at a time, taking my time, and enjoying the process.

I thought it would be fun to start off with a book I find hard to describe rather than one I just loved. The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams is definitely one of those that is not easily defined. I didn't love the book, but...I didn't hate it either. I found it interesting and thought provoking in ways I did not expect.

The setting of the novel is London in the Summer of 1840. The story revolves around a strange young lady with a dark past who is living with her uncle. There is someone who is killing young women during this long, hot summer, and the protagonist feels a type of connection with the killer in her mind. She thinks she can figure out who the murderer is and why he is killing these women. Think of a mixture between Henry James' Turn of the Screw (with less detail), Jack the Ripper, and a dash of that "Upstairs, Downstairs/Downton Abbey" type thing.

The book kept me reading, I did find it interesting, but - I can't help but point this out - I found some of the relations between some of the characters a bit...shocking? No, "shocking" is too much. Perhaps, I should say, a bit odd? Not because I doubt the validity of such things throughout history, as they have gone on since the beginning of time, but...I guess I never thought of it in the context of Victorian London. I never asked myself about the types of things that went on behind closed ladies' bedroom doors or in servants' quarters. Don't get the wrong idea, the whole book isn't wallowing in it, but when it did pop up, it surprised me. I wasn't expecting it based on what I knew about the novel before I read it. It also makes it a book I wouldn't recommend to every person I know. Some people are open-minded enough to accept things like that as a part of the story, and a fact of life, and go on with it. Other people, well,...they don't handle it so well. I have friends and family on both sides of that literary wall. In other words, while I would have no trouble recommending it to most of my friends, I would not recommend it to my mother. Understand?

And, speaking of recommendations, if you are a fan of historical fiction and murder mysteries, you may enjoy this book. It won't be the best book you ever read, but it is a good book. I'm glad I read it. I wouldn't put it at the top of your list, but maybe in the  middle. However, I should warn  you, if you're a reader who doesn't like shifts in the narration throughout the book, you may want to skip this one. It happens fairly frequently and, to her credit, the author states it was on purpose to make you feel as confused and uncertain as the protagonist. I get that. I even appreciate it. However, I know some of my friends that wouldn't want to read it just for that reason.

Last, but not least, if it helps to say how I feel about this slightly odd duck, I liked it enough to look up some of Kate Williams' other books. The Pleasures of Men was her fictional debut, but she's written other types of books before this one, and she's written some since. In fact, I'm already interested in reading the biography she wrote on Josephine Bonaparte. I guess that says there's something about Williams' style that I like and want to enjoy again.

Happy reading! :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Still Here!

It's been awhile since I've blogged, mostly because I've been busy enjoying my summer break. I have been reading, though, and I've found some odd books and some treasures I want to share with you. I think I'll just write one blog about all of them, giving a brief opinion and general summary (without spoilers) of each.

I'm on my way out the door in a few minutes, but I'll be sure and blog about those books later on tonight,..well,...more like...late tonight, so you might want to check tomorrow. :)

You see, I am enjoying being outdoors a great deal this summer. If it's daylight and the sun is shining, I want to be outside. I've lived in Texas nearly eighteen years now, and I believe this is the mildest summer we've ever had. It has been incredibly wonderful to spend so much time outdoors! It's good for my mind, good for my body, and good for my soul. We've had plenty of rain, which is also unusual, so everything is still green and the flowers around my house are blooming like crazy and make me smile every day. Yes, life is good!

I hope summer is wonderful wherever you are! I look forward to sharing some book reviews and news with you tonight.

Happy reading!!